Tired of fighting her cravings with sugar-filled snacks that masquerade as health food, Jessica Thomas, former marketing executive, decided to quit the 9-to-5 and devote herself to creating a 100 per cent natural alternative. She’s now the founder of Health Lab – a two-year young company that sells products through more than 3,000 doors nationwide and overseas.
“It was rather a simple moment,” explains Jessica. “I had made a batch of protein balls one Sunday afternoon and the following Monday was a crazy day at work with back-to-back meetings. I ended up bringing out the protein balls at 3pm to share with my rather hangry team – and they were such a hit! The concept really ‘rolled’ from there.”
The former L’Oreal and Retail Zoo employee had seen big business thrive, and knew the power of a great marketing strategy, so knew where to invest her energy.
“From the very beginning of Health Lab, I focused my attention on creating a full and engaging brand that connected with my end customers,” she starts. “With a marketing-centric culture and strong focus on customers, my time in the corporate world was an incredible foundation to build Health Lab on.”
After literally starting in the kitchen, the balls that started it all are now neighbours to a range of protein smoothies and kid’s snacks. The unwavering commitment to 100 per cent natural was what saw the brand stand out from a crowd; but it also came with challenges.
“From a commercial, shelf life and manufacturing perspective, it’s much easier to add in preservatives, sugars and fillers into products. But we were committed to maintaining the integrity of our products,” she explains. “This meant we had some product set backs early, but we pushed through these hurdles and it has definitely worked to our advantage.”
Not letting her lack of experience in the food industry deter her, instead Jessica stuck to what she could be sure of, and grew from there. “It was really only a matter of weeks from the moment I decided on my concept to when I actually started selling our first products to a local café – I simply trusted my intuition,” says Jessica. “Given that I was starting on such a small scale there was really nothing to lose. I didn’t have a business plan and in reflection, I don’t think it would have really helped me that much.”
“It’s taken a lot of relying on word of mouth, social media, persistence and pure hustle to get the Health Lab products into the hands of customers and grab the attention of major retail buyers. I think the key to unlocking our growth was… mindset switch; from thinking of ourselves as a small local business, to thinking on a much bigger and more ambitious scale,” says Thomas. “Once we started thinking and acting like a bigger business, opportunities started opening for us.”
As a woman with two hats, the new mum and entrepreneur knows busy, but also wants to kick butt and ensure her daughter can have the same opportunities in the future.
“Despite Australia having a thriving start-up culture, less than a quarter of those businesses are started and run by women,” starts Jessica. “The employment landscape is becoming more insecure and complex for young people… they will need to be enterprising to succeed at both work and life.”
This realisation led the mother-of-one and boss babe to found the Fuelling Female Success schools program to help support educators bring entrepreneurialism into the classroom. “We believe that storytelling, role modelling and mentorship has lasting impact and is a fundamental way in which we can trigger change and build momentum to help accelerate female entrepreneurship.” A YouTube based learning platform, students are also connected to mentors and guidance provided to teachers.
On a personal level, Jessica reflects on what this experience has enabled her to realise the realities of getting your own ideas off the ground.
“Starting a business is like a ski slope; steep, fast paced, with unforseen surprises… even with the best-laid plans and all the research in the world. In my experience, things change quickly and don’t always run according to plan. I believe you learn so much as you go, so just get on with it!”
“When I first started Health Lab, I was looking for more balance and flexibility in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard. But I have a much greater sense of purpose and fulfilment, and thrive in what I’m doing now. I think anyone who wants to truly discover what they are capable of and remove all limitations should jump on the rollercoaster!”